Living (and Breathing) with VOG

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A section of the University of Hawaii (Hilo) website describes the natural hazards of the Big Island. The discussion on VOG is of particular interest, and is certainly pertinent to Oahu readers this week, as we find our island shrouded in a thin gray mist that is our gift from Pele.

Of the many gases released with volcanic activity, sulfur dioxide (SO2) is the most irritating and is especially burdensome on those with lung disease, such as asthma or COPD. Interestingly, as this aerosolized sulfur dioxide (SO2) and sulfuric acid (H2S04) wafts from Big Island to the smaller islands they react with small amounts of ammonia in the atmosphere and are almost entirely converted to ammonium sulfate [(NH4 ) 2SO4] which although not acidic is still irritating to the eyes, throat, and lungs.


The good news is that it is highly soluble in water.

Thus, the VOG on the smaller islands can easily be reduced in your home. Many of us combat the VOG with air-conditioning and occasionally dehumidifiers thinking that they filter it out.  In fact, they work by allowing the ammonium sulfate to dissolve in the water which accumulates on the condenser. However, these devices are not energy efficient. A cheaper, equally effective technique is wet cheesecloth or loosely woven towel soaked in water draped over a standing fan (won’t work on a ceiling fan).  The UH Hilo website has excellent illustrative photos.

Vog sunset in Kona.

Note: Smaller island readers may ignore the box of baking soda used on big Island to neutralize the acidic SO2. Although the wet towel can be hung on either side of the fan it is preferable to mount it in front so that motor parts are not exposed to humid air.   For outdoor activities, you can use a moistened paper mask or bandanna to filter out the ammonium sulfate.

The more sophisticated/expensive masks are only required on Big Island.

Remember to take your mask off when entering a bank!

Attribution:  Photos courtesy of By Brocken Inaglory, Wikimedia Commons

Dr. Leonard Rossoff, a Hawaii Pulmonologist is a contributing author of this article.  Dr. Hilton is the President and CEO of Crown Care Hawaii, a local firm providing patient advocacy and Medicare navigation services.  Both Drs Hilton and Rossoff are Professors of Clinical Medicine emerita at the Albert Einstein School of Medicine.





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